This article is about the SLA member. For the American singer-songwriter and musician, see Emmylou Harris.
Emily Harris (born February 11, 1947 as Emily Montague Schwartz) was, along with her husband William Harris (1945-), a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a leftist United States group involved in bank robberies, kidnapping and murder. In the 1970s, she was convicted of kidnapping Patty Hearst. In 2003, she was convicted of murder in the second degree for being the shooter in a 1975 slaying that occurred while she and other SLA members were robbing a bank in California. She was sentenced to eight years in prison for the murder.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, and raised in Clarendon Hills, IL. Harris was the daughter of Frederick Schwartz, an engineer, and had a middle-class upbringing. She graduated from Indiana University with a BA in language arts, having earned straight A's. She was briefly a junior high school English teacher, in Bloomington, at Binford Junior High.
Founding the Symbionese Liberation Army:
Emily and Bill Harris arrived in Berkeley, California in 1973 from Bloomington, Indiana. They came with their friends Gary Atwood and Angela Atwood. They soon joined a left-wing group, one of whose activities was visiting prisoners in northern California. The Harrises made the acquaintance of an escaped prisoner, Donald DeFreeze. They joined the SLA, created by Mizmoon Soltysik, Nancy Ling Perry, Joseph Remiro, Russell Little, Willie Wolfe, Angela Atwood, Theo Wheeler, and Camilla Hall. Emily Harris's nom de guerre was Yolanda. On November 6, the SLA committed its first public act, the assassination of popular Oakland, California school superintendent Marcus Foster. The SLA mistakenly thought that Foster was behind a plan to require student identification cards in Oakland high schools. Subsequently, they kidnapped Patty Hearst, the college student heir to the Hearst newspaper chain.
Later SLA and Opsahl murder:
Emily and Bill Harris took over the leadership of the SLA after six other SLA members died in a Los Angeles shootout with police and the house fire it triggered. After the fire, the Harrises spent over a year on the run with their victim, Patty Hearst and new members Kathleen Soliah, Josephine Soliah, Steven Soliah, Mike Bortin, Jim Kilgore, and Wendy Yoshimura. Hearst had since become an active participant in SLA crimes herself. Yoshimura, Patty's closest friend while underground, was a fugitive for her involvement with explosives that were stored in a garage she rented. During that year the SLA committed a string of crimes, including an April 21, 1975 robbery of Crocker National Bank in Carmichael, California. During the robbery, 42-year-old Myrna Opsahl was shotgunned to death. Opsahl was depositing a church collection at the time. Patty Hearst stated in her 1982 autobiography Every Secret Thing that Emily was the shooter. Hearst also stated that Harris said "Oh, she's dead, but it doesn't really matter. She was a bourgeois pig anyway. Her husband is a doctor." Other SLA members had urged Harris not to bring the shotgun to the robbery, as it had accidentally gone off twice during preparations.
The Harrises were eventually arrested and served eight years in prison for the Hearst kidnapping. Imprisoned at the California Institution for Women at Frontera, California, Emily Harris spent the first half of her term in solitary confinement. Emily learned computer programming in prison.
Life after first prison term:
After her release from prison in 1983, Harris became a computer programmer and began a successful computer consulting company. She worked at MGM Studios until her second conviction. She divorced her husband and lived with another woman for many years in Los Angeles. Together they purchased a two-bedroom home in Altadena, California.
Opsahl murder charges:
For over 25 years no one was charged in the Opsahl murder. The SLA wore wigs and masks during the Crocker Bank robbery, and left little evidence behind. However, with new forensics techniques, the FBI was eventually able to link shotgun pellets removed from Opsahl's body to shotgun shells found in an SLA hideout. Additional evidence mounted, and in 2002 Harris and three other SLA members were charged with the Opsahl murder. Harris's bail was set at one million US dollars, which her supporters quickly gathered.
Three former SLA members who had been granted immunity - Hearst, Steven Soliah, and Wendy Yoshimura - were set to testify for the prosecution in the Opsahl case.
Facing a possible conviction, Harris and the others pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Harris was sentenced to eight additional years in prison; Bill Harris was sentenced to seven years and Kathleen Soliah and Michael Bortin were each sentenced to six years for their roles.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license